By JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter
Randy Vataha is well aware of L.A.’s star-crossed relationship with professional football.
And he’s undeterred by it.
The former New England Patriots wide receiver is planning to launch a spring football league next March with a team in L.A.
Vataha and partner Bob Caporale, who run the sports consulting firm Game Plan Inc. in Boston, are negotiating with Pasadena city officials to play 10 home games a year in the Rose Bowl.
“I know what everyone is thinking here comes another ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ spring football league,” Vataha said. “(But) this is going to be different, and we’re not going to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
The blueprint for the proposed All-American Football League is to have teams in 12 of the top 25 television markets, each wholly owned by the league and funded centrally as a means of controlling costs.
Costs also will be controlled by placing strict limits on player salaries, and by soliciting sponsors to provide some of the equipment and supplies needed by the league.
Vataha said the All-American league has private investors lined up to pitch in half of the $80 million they’ll need to start operations.
Credit Suisse First Boston Inc. is on board to advise on further financing options, as well as a possible public stock sale, he said.
A spokeswoman for the investment banking firm confirmed they were working with new league.
But will L.A. which lost both the NFL Raiders and Rams to other cities accept a minor-league alternative?
Former Rams kicker Danny Villanueva, who wants to get a franchise for a National Football League expansion team in Los Angeles, remains skeptical.
“I’m just not convinced about the prospects of that league in Los Angeles,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Century City investment firm of Bastion Capital. “Los Angeles is not an easy city at best, as the Rams and the Raiders found out. Fans demand a competitive product on the field, and they aren’t going to suffer through a loser very long.”
Los Angeles has not been kind to new pro football franchises. Los Angeles has been home to at least seven professional teams none of which are left.
– The Rams moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland in 1946. They then jumpd to Anaheim Stadium in 1980, before moving to St. Louis in 1994.
– The Raiders played in L.A. from 1982 to 1994, then moved back the next year to Oakland because improvements to the Coliseum were never made.
– The Dons started in 1946 as one of the original eight teams in the All-American Football Conference. They played four seasons in the Coliseum, but failed to survive because the organization spent too much money on players.
– The Chargers started in 1960 as one of the eight original members of the American Football League. They played one season before mostly empty seats at the Coliseum before moving south, and later joining the NFL.
– The Southern California Sun was one of the original 12 World Football League teams in 1974. But, after playing one full season in Anaheim Stadium, the team and league folded after 12 games.
– The United States Football League fronted the L.A. Express in town from 1982 to 1985. The team played at the Coliseum to moderate success, but ultimately suffered when it began signing players to big-money contracts.
– The Los Angeles Cobras, the city’s first indoor football team, played their first and only season at the Sports Arena in 1988.
AAFL backers have made a point to distance themselves from the short-lived USFL, which ultimately imploded when team owners spent more money on player talent out of proportion to the league’s popularity.
In addition, $35 million will be equally divided to pay for salaries among the teams which will be located in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Tampa Bay, Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco.
Vataha’s research indicates that about two-thirds of L.A. residents enjoy watching football and about two-thirds of that segment would like to watch an alternative league in the spring.
“I certainly wouldn’t throw water on it,” said David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council.
“I think recent history proves that any new sport has to be given a shot for success,” he added, noting that the L.A. Galaxy professional soccer team surprised skeptics last year with its relatively high attendance figures.
At the same time, Simon said drawing fans to football games in the spring has always been a tough proposition.
Vataha contends that football-starved Angelenos would support a new L.A. team, and projects about 19,000 fans to attend games.
David Jacobs, the Rose Bowl’s general manager, said Pasadena needs to make about $300,000 annually for the venture to be worth it.
“Clearly, we’re not going to cut them an NFL-like deal,” said Jacobs. “We’re willing to work with them because there’s a lot of start-up costs. We’re trying to be fair, but we need to generate a profit.”